Despite the unseasonably hot temperatures, our transition from summer to fall has officially taken place. I for one prefer the cooler temperatures that will soon arrive and suspect that most of our students who spend their recess time running will also agree. Nevertheless, the games of soccer, tag, basketball and capture-the-flag continue – along with frequent trips to the water fountains! Such is life on the typical Canadian school playground.
Speaking of playgrounds, have you ever heard this one: “Parents cry foul after elementary school bans balls from its playground!” Or this one: “Schools ban cartwheels, balls, tag and fun at recess!” There have even been schools that have banned “running” for fear that children might slip, trip, fall or accidently run headlong into another student while looking over their shoulder. As much as this might seem farfetched, it is happening today in schools as more seem to be carrying the “worry ball” for children.
I raise the issue in the interest of children for a few reasons: (a) I have raised four of my own; (b) I was one myself; and (c) I have worked with hundreds of them for over twenty-five years. Thankfully, the goals of our school playground strive to focus on what is developmentally healthy for kids of all ages.
At Matthews Hall, daily physical activity is a priority. It is not just filler or fluff or a waste of time. The ancients knew it and so did our grandmothers (and most of us had the benefit of experiencing it) – kids need to run around and sustain the occasional bump or bruise, if they are to have any hope of developing the resilience that will prepare them for life’s real challenges. To learn properly and develop socially, physically and emotionally, children need this experience and plenty of it.
In society’s pressure to put protective bubbles around kids, schools need to have some perspective about what happens on the playground.
First, it’s important to keep in mind that fun – not liability – is the core value of recess. This is why trained and experienced teachers bring a very necessary “set of eyes” formed by experience and context to the “playground jungle”. Second, recess is an opportunity for children to learn important life lessons such as creating games, being selected for a team, working with others, and playing by the rules (…including the consequences of not playing by them!). Third, recess is a time to let off steam, build a muscle or two, and not worry about tort liability.
As children jostle and bump about in their recess play, their safety, comfort and treatment by peers are serious priorities we seek to build, support, model and sustain in our community. However, when there is a tiny (dare we say desirable?) amount of risk in an environment (e.g., climbers at a height, playgrounds with pavement, or games that can become intense), it makes no sense to ban everything that undermines safety. Safety is important, but it is not the only value in a child’s life. Fun, risk-taking, and fitness count for something, too, and within reason are essential.
I think most children would agree!
Ric Anderson, Head of School